Are the Virtual Interactions of Social Media Increasing or Dicreasing Your Stress?

Here are 5 tips for using Facebook, Snapchat, Twaitter, Instagram, and other platforms to help (not hurt) well-being.

onnecting with others is generally a good thing when it comes to our health and well-being. But can the same be said for our virtual interactions? The answer is a qualified “maybe,” according to psychologists and other experts who have studied the issue.

There’s evidence that the ability to connect with others via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social media platforms, as well as text messages, can help strengthen social ties and keep us more attuned to our mental and physical health. But there’s also evidence that such interactions stifle human connectivity, lower our self-esteem, make us feel lonely and isolated.

The critical questions we all need to ask, she says, are: “How are we using it?” and “How can we tip the balance to amplify positives and lessen the negatives?”

Getting Personal Tends to Be a Good Thing

Social media in some cases provides the social support we (as in all human beings) need.

A study published in the July 2016 issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication and other research have found that when we receive targeted, personalized communications from people with whom we have strong ties — such as a direct message or comments on a photo we share — well-being tends to improve. By contrast, social media interactions with someone with whom we have a weaker tie (or an easy-to-produce or one-click interaction, such as “liking” a photo or viewing a friend’s photo or post) don’t tend to help our well-being.

A 2017 review article published in January in the journal Social Issues and Policy Review concluded that passive use of social media is what is actually problematic, leading to envy and negatively affecting well-being. Active use of social media, however, promotes well-being by increasing feelings of connectedness.

The point should be made, however, that there’s no way to know from the Everyday Health survey data whether or not that higher frequency of contact necessarily means higher quality of contact. Other experts have told Everyday Health that young adults in particular tend to be very busy (and often alongside their peers), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are building quality relationships in the process (and may actually be incredibly lonely simultaneously).

Social Media Provides Community for Those With Mental Health and Chronic Conditions

When it comes to coping with personal challenges, such as chronic health conditions, mental health issues, or other medical and health problems, social media is increasingly a resource many people turn to.

Data from the Everyday Health survey found that while 17 percent of all individuals reported checking email at least daily, that rate slightly increased among those who had a mental health condition (20 percent of those surveyed), as well as among those who had another chronic health condition (18 percent).

Social Media Benefits Diminish With User Time

With the evidence that social media has the potential for good comes evidence that it can do harm, too. The benefits seem to disappear when social media use becomes excessive.

For example, a study published in the July 2017 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that using platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat for more than two hours a day is associated with feelings of social isolation among individuals between ages 19 and 32. Other data shows that the incidence of depression increases among young adults (also those ages 19 to 32) who use social media more often than their peers, according to research published in the April 2016 issue of the journal Anxiety and Depression.

“Young people tend to be at a stage in their lives where the perceived approval of peers is all-important, so the quest for a perfect image online may become all-consuming,” Kamenetz says. They might turn to social media as a way to explore self-expression and their emerging identity, only to find that they’ve begun to rely solely on feedback from others as their measure of self-worth, she says.

Tips for Healthy Social Media Use

How can you keep your social media habits on the beneficial, stress-busting (rather than stress-inducing) side of the equation? Here’s what the experts suggest for staying connected in a smarter way:

1. Track your use. The first step is diagnosing the problem, Ohannessian says. That means you need to know how much time you’re spending on social media. She suggests using an app to track your social media use for down-to-the-second results (and potentially one that can set time limits for you).

2. Be selective about who and what you follow. “Follow accounts that inspire, engage, and connect us to ideas and people we care about,” she suggests. Stop following accounts that make you feel insecure or upset.

3. Browse with more awareness. Some people perceptively look at social media feeds conscious of the fact that people are selectively sharing what they choose to share.

Don’t “browse with the sense that every image serves as evidence that others are happier and living better lives.
This last approach, tends to lead to less productive thoughts and evaluations of ourselves.
4. Make time to disconnect. Just like many things in life, moderation is key. Pick a time in your day to actively NOT check social media. Keep your phone and other devices in another room to avoid the temptation to pick them up.
5. Use social media with intention. Using social media in a healthy way means using it in a way that supports the other parts of your life, such as family time, work, exercise, and other interests.